Lung Cancer

What is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer is caused by cells that grow out of control in the lungs. If cancer starts in the lungs, it is called the primary tumour. Sometimes cancer spreads to the lungs from another part of the body, this is called a secondary tumour.

Who does Lung Cancer affect?

Around 47,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer every year in the UK, and it is one of the most common types of cancer. Lung cancer mainly affects people over the age of 40; at least 4 out of 10 people diagnosed with lung cancer in the UK are aged 75 and older.

People who smoke or who used to smoke are much more likely to get lung cancer, this includes smoking tobacco and cannabis. Smoking accounts for about 72% of lung cancer cases. Frequent exposure to other people’s smoke, known as passive smoking also increases your chances of developing lung cancer. If you would like to stop smoking, details about support to give up smoking can be found here. You can find local Stop Smoking services using the Service Finder tool. As part of the Targeted Lung Health Check programme in England, people between the ages of 56 and 74 years old, who are current or ex-smokers, will be invited to a free lung check to help to try and detect lung cancer in those who are considered to be high risk.

People who have been exposed to certain chemicals or small particles including radon, asbestos, coal fumes and the fumes from car exhausts are also more likely to get lung cancer. You can find out more about lung cancer risk on the Cancer Research website

What are the symptoms?

A lot of people don’t notice any symptoms of lung cancer when it is in its early stages, but as lung cancer progresses and grows, symptoms include:

  • A new cough that doesn’t go away after 2 or 3 weeks, or a long-standing cough that gets worse
  • Chest infections that keep coming back
  • Coughing up blood (the medical term is haemoptysis) 
  • An ache or pain when breathing or coughing
  • Persistent breathlessness
  • Persistent tiredness or lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss
  • Night sweats
  • persistent chest, back or shoulder pain

Less common symptoms of lung cancer include:

What if I have some of these symptoms?

If you have any of these symptoms, you should make an appointment to see your GP. If you don’t have a GP, you can search for local GP services on the Service Finder web page.
As part of investigations, you may be asked to blow into a spirometer, which is special tube to check how well your lungs are working, and you may also be referred for blood tests and for an appointment with a specialist, as well as a Computerised Tomography (CT) scan.

How is Lung Cancer treated?

There are several different options for treating lung cancer. The right treatment will depend on:

  • How big your lung tumour is
  • If the cancer has spread to any other parts of your body
  • Your overall health

There are also certain drugs that can be used if your lung cancer has a specific genetic mutation.
Specialists in cancer and respiratory diseases will talk to you about what kind of treatment might be right for you. They will also talk to you about any possible side effects.
The most common treatment options for lung cancer include:

Find out more about treatments for lung cancer.

What other support is available to help me deal with Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer can affect your life in many different ways. As well as the doctors and nurses who will help you with your medical treatment, you should be able to see a lung cancer clinical nurse specialist who can give you extra advice and support with living with lung cancer. The Macmillan website provides advice and support for living with lung cancer.

Clinical nurse specialists (sometime called Macmillan nurses if they are funded by the Macmillan cancer charity) can answer questions you might have about your condition or treatment, they can also help with managing your symptoms and provide practical and emotional support to you and your family.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

If you feel unwell and your breathing is affected, tell someone as soon as you can. 24-hour NHS advice is available by dialling 111 or visiting In an emergency dial 999 or go straight to your nearest accident and emergency department.
If you have any of the symptoms in the ‘What are the symptoms?’ section earlier on this page, you should make an appointment to see your GP. If you don’t have a GP, you can search for local GP services on the Service Finder web page.  Your GP will be able to refer you to specialist cancer services.